J-Pop Sunday – The High-Lows

Something a bit different for your reading pleasure! The first in series of semi-regular features that dives head first into the weird and wonderful world of Japanese music. I’m Kaito and I’m the one who will be pushing you off the end of the aforementioned diving board. However, there’s no need to worry! I’ll ease you in gently for our first foray; we’ll start on the familiar punk rock ground TBO readers are accustomed to as we get to know a group known as The High-Lows.

Quick guide
Act Name: The High-Lows (ザ・ハイロウズ)
Years Active: 1995- 2005
Genre: Punk Rock
Notable Singles: “Missile Man (ミサイルマン)” – 1995, “Seishun (青春)” – 2000, “Thunder Road (サンダーロード)” – 2005
Album Title that Amused Me the Most: “Tigermobile” – 1996

The High-Lows formed in the summer of 1995. Born from the ashes of The Blue Hearts (ザ・ブルーハーツ), former band of lead singer Hiroto Koumoto, guitarist Masatoshi Mashima and keyboard player Mikio Shirai, the trio partnered with bassist Sakito Shirabe and drummer Kenji Oshima to form The High Lows. Riding on the popularity of The Blue Hearts, October saw the band release their debut album “The High-Lows” – Which reached a respectable No.5 in Japan’s Oricon charts – along with their first single “Missle Man (ミサイルマン)”. The band’s upbeat punk rock style helped keep the band in the public eye and a steady stream of singles followed over the next few years.

a live performance of Missle Man

1996 was a busy year for The High-Lows: The year saw the release of the band’s second album “Tigermobile” which reached No.6 in the charts and also saw the band make its first major nationwide tour, with 36 dates in 34 cities. The band also managed to nab a gig performing as the opening act at the renowned Nippon Budokan venue in Tokyo for some English band called “The Sex Pistols.” (Nope, I’ve never heard of them either…)

Time passed, and new albums and singles flowed: 1998 saw their third album “lobster” released followed by “baumkuchen (バームクーヘン” in ’99, both of which broke the top ten in the charts, but 2000 was the year that the band had their most successful single: “Seishun(青春)”

The band performs their biggest hit “Seishun” live

Reaching number 8 in the Oricon charts, Seishun (or “Youth” in English) was the band’s bestselling single and it’s clear to see why: It’s hard not to like it; it’s cheerful but powerful and optimistic all at once: Its release in late May cemented it as a perfect anthem for the upcoming summer. Or maybe it has something to do with the fact that it was used as the theme song to the comedy drama serial “Densetsu no kyoshi (伝説の教師)” (“Legendary Teacher”). Probably the latter. Either way, it’s an enjoyable song, don’t you think?

After Seishun the band continued strongly, releasing three more albums over the next three years and continued their energetic live performances, however in 2003 keyboardist Mikio left the band in 2003 to pursue solo projects, but that didn’t hold the remaining members of The High-Lows back: Hiroto and the crew kept rocking across the country and producing hits for another two years. Activities during this time included a slot at the 2004 Fuji Rock Festival; performing alongside big name international acts such as The Killers, Snow Patrol, Franz Ferdinand and… erm… Dizzie Rascal.

However, after 10 years performing as The High-Lows it was time to take a break: 2005 saw the release of the band’s final single: “Thunder Road (サンダーロード)” on the 18th of May and 5 days later The High-Lows played their final show in Naha, Okinawa, as a part of their “The ★ MUSTANG 04-05” nationwide tour.

So, that’s the story of The High-Lows. But what happened to these guys? Well, in 2006 lead singer Hiroto Komoto and guitarist Masatoshi Mashima set up yet another band together: The Cro-Magnons (ザ・クロマニヨンズ). I guess you can’t keep an old rocker down because The Cro-Magnons are still rocking their way across Japan. Their latest single “Totsugeki Rock (突撃ロック)” (“Assault Rock”) was even used as the opening theme song to the popular ninja themed action anime series “Naruto Shippuden”. Meanwhile, keyboardist Mikio Shirai’s solo projects didn’t work out for him, however in 2005 he re-united with another former member of The Blue Hearts, Tetsuya Kajiwara, to form a new band called The Big Hip (ザ・ビッグ・ヒップ) sadly, the hip wasn’t big enough and the duo only lasted for three years before collapsing. Alas, drummer Kenji Oshima and bassist Sakito Shirabe seem to have fallen off the radar since The High-Lows put down their instruments. I like to pretend that they’ve both got nice jobs at a record company somewhere or that they also found new bandmates to carry on playing with and that they’re not sweeping the streets somewhere in Shinjuku…

Ten years, eight albums, twenty six singles, two spin-off bands and a heck of a lot of music are only part of the legacy The High-Lows have left to this world. Join us again next time for another glimpse into the wonderfully obscure world of Japanese Pop here at TwoBeatsOff. For now, I will leave you with one last track from The High-Lows: Their 1998 single “Rolling Jet Thunder (ローリング・ジェット・サンダー)”. Feel free to sing along!

Oh! Oh! Hang on! Wasn’t a “The Sex Pistols” song used in one of those Tony Hawk skateboarding games? Number 4 I think. On the PS2! Ehh, doesn’t matter…

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